Review Summary: Back in grey, AC/DC deliver a rockin' amount of mediocrity.
What do you do once you’ve done it all?
This might seem like the most ridiculous question, but think about it for just a minute. It’s a question that quite a few bands have had to put to themselves in recent years. The kind of bands that perhaps your parents grew up listening to that, in 2008, are most probably the kind of acts that Bart Simpson may refer to as “dinosaur bands”. It’s certainly a fearful question for a band to ask, and not one that is always answered in the most rational way. The Eagles answered it with a double album that, once a few layers of cheese was removed, proved to feature some of their best work. The Rolling Stones answered it with some more solid touring, some more rehab and a surprisingly formidable release in A Bigger Bang
. Neil Young answered it by doing it all over again. Toto answered it by breaking up.
In typical, stubborn “Aussie” fashion, AC/DC have answered the question by doing just what they have done for nigh-on thirty years with Brian Johnson at the helm- they’ve made another AC/DC album. This may seem unsurprising, but the reason this has been brought up is the amount of time it has taken them to do this. Eight years have passed since the dross of Stiff Upper Lip
, leading fans to expect a great return to form after such a lengthy sabbatical. Ultimately, however, what fans are about to find out is that AC/DC haven’t been hard at work at all. As a matter of fact, Black Ice
could well be the laziest thing the band have ever done. Uninspired, mindless and often quite ugly, this is the sound of a band on its very, very last legs.
The most difficult thing about dissecting Black Ice
is the fact there are positively no highlights whatsoever in its fifty-plus minutes. Certainly, this is the exact same AC/DC we have come to know since the untimely death of Bon Scott. Any possible life found within the band’s music, however, has been sucked completely dry. There is nothing present on the album that the band have not already attempted, and done so in a far more interesting way.
There is quite possibly no better example of this than lead single “Rock & Roll Train”- the first of four tracks to mention either “Rock & Roll” or “Rocking” in its title, already an indicator of just how much thought the album has had put into it. Over a limp reshuffling of “Highway to Hell”, Brian Johnson tells us the ridiculous and inane tale of “one hot angel” and “one cool devil”. Topped off with a solo that Angus Young most likely came up with on the spot, the zombie-like backbeat of drummer Phillip Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams, as well as a decidedly anticlimactic chorus, this song is a four-minute summation of everything that is wrong with the bulk of AC/DC’s Johnson-lead era. There is no driving force or passion behind this regurgitation of music that was not exactly formidable to begin with. The only possible reason that comes to mind is for increased ticket sales to an upcoming tour that the band would most likely sell out regardless of a new release.
Another issue with the songs is their general lack of purpose or meaning. Whilst it is simple to just enjoy some good-time rock’n’roll without worrying too much about these things, one really does worry when the only insight comes from the chorus, where the song’s title will be repeated in either Johnson’s high-pitched shriek (“Spoilin’ For A Fight”) or barked by backing vocalists (“War Machine”). There are also major issues with Johnson’s vocals, that sound particularly awful and harsh to the ears throughout Black Ice
, as he creepily rasps through gritted teeth about the most mundane and over done rock lyric topics known to man. Not even that, however, can compete with the particularly dreadful backing vocals. Look no further for evidence than “She Likes Rock ‘n’ Roll”- with yet another recycled lick, the ears are unwillingly penetrated by the sound of the chant “She is rock ‘n’ roll/She is rock ‘n’ roll/She is rock ‘n’ roll/I like rock ‘n’ roll”. No kidding.
These factors culminate in what will hopefully be remembered as AC/DC’s lowest point. Every single song bleeds into one another to the point where you are consistently checking that one song has finished and another has begun. The only reasons one could possibly be anything but incredibly bored and incredibly annoyed with Black Ice
are that the listener is fifteen years of age or younger, yet to be exposed to the glory days of T.N.T
and Highway To Hell
, or that the listener is very, very easily impressed.
Yes, it’s been eight long years. But nothing has changed in the world of AC/DC, and you will find yourself questioning why you ever even thought it might have.